Wow. I had no expectations whatsoever for this thing. It's not even as if Amityville III: The Demon is the real title. No, being a true child of 1983 it's really called Amityville 3-D and thus offers the unintentional comedy factor of frisbees, torches, etc. lurching right up to the camera. Sadly this happened less often than I'd been hoping, but it was still funny. Expectations were further dented by the "Amityville" bit. For those who haven't been keeping track, this is the roster to date:
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
- Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
- Amityville 3-D (1983)
- Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) (made for television by NBC)
- The Amityville Curse (1990) (video)
- Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992) (video)
- Amityville: A New Generation (1993) (video)
- Amityville: Dollhouse (1996) (video)
- The Amityville Horror (2005) (remake)
The Amityville Horror
is schlock with a weak ending, most notable for its financial subtext at a time of worldwide economic troubles. It did huge business at the box office, but it also manages to feels like a lesser sequel to Amityville II: The Possession
, a prequel. That's a nasty, grimy, sleazy little piece which nonetheless has its own odd integrity and takes some story turns you won't forget in a hurry. Incest for one. It's hardly a pleasant experience, but it's certainly unforgettable. Unfortunately its second half tries to do The Exorcist and falls to pieces spectacularly.
I was braced for rubbish, but to my astonishment Amityville III is great! It's a clever film, so much so that at times that's its biggest problem. It's so busy being clever that it often forgets to be stupid. Horror is not naturally an intellectual genre. It's also wildly entertaining, far more so than its two predecessors, although I'm thinking mostly here about the comedy demon. Can you call a film "wildly entertaining" if it's merely quite good for most of its running time, but then at the end does something so breathtakingly goofy that you're rolling on the sofa in physical pain from laughter? Dunno. Well, I just did. I love this film. It should be played by law at all parties. If you can get everyone through to the end, it'll slay 'em.
The basic premise of this movie is that it's asking the question, "What kind of idiot would deliberately move into the Amityville house?" The answer of course is "a professional sceptic". We have journalists and paranormal investigators in the cast. They're asking the kind of questions that normally only come from the audience, and what's more coming up with fairly impressive answers. There's a self-awareness to this film that I love, down to the deliberately arch music. It's dabbling with kitsch, just enough to add a little spice and keep it fun.
They're even playful with genre. Amityville III is more experimental than its predecessors, trying on all kinds of different haunted house genres for size. They do the straightforward "scary house" spooky stuff that got hammered to death in the original. There's a hint of The Omen. There's a section that's an actual honest-to-goodness ghost story, the kind of thing you'd expect to see in an M.R. James adaptation or a J-Horror tale about a drowned girl with long hair. Incredible. How often do you see something that delicate in a Hollywood horror film? And in one scene, to my amazement, there's something that I like to interpret as dabbling in Lovecraft's peculiar horror of houses and other physical structures that just look wrong. He had a thing about impossible angles, geometry and mathematics that I don't think even he ever successfully communicated to an audience. However check out this film's bathroom scene. What's scary? It's the wall. A menacing wall. Just when you think you've seen everything.
The cast is notable mostly for including a young Meg Ryan. She's fine. Although having said that, I thought Candy Clark gave good hysteria. That may not sound like much, but fear can be catching if you judge that kind of thing correctly. She has a job to do in this film and she does it well.
Until nearly the end, my only problem with this was that it wasn't very frightening. It's what I was saying earlier about being too clever. This is an interesting film, but it has so much to say that it can't always squeeze in many scare scenes and thus doesn't really build up dread. I liked what we got, though. It may not be playing as loud as some horror films, but what it does have to show is surprisingly varied and sometimes even delicate. We get all kinds of creepy, from psychological problems to good old-fashioned oogie-boogie. By the end I was far more caught up in these characters and their mental states than I'd expected...
...and then up pops the comedy demon. That's not "dabbling" with kitsch, but "plunging down so deep that you couldn't follow in a bathysphere". Don't get me wrong. Out of context it wouldn't look so bad. You could put it in a 1970s Doctor Who episode. However it's something else to see it pop up at the climax of what against all expectations had ended up as an intelligent and sophisticated piece of film-making. I'm sorry, I lost it. I was howling. Ironically that's the point at which the carnage really begins. Things should theoretically be intense. Our characters are battling through hell, but none of that matters because you've seen The Rubber Mask and you can't think straight any more. You could probably turn this film into a triumph just by cutting those two offending seconds. Hell, splice in some CGI-ed footage instead and you might even produce a masterpiece.
I love this film. It's great. The ending may be demented, but it's certainly entertaining. Besides, both Amityvilles 1 & 2 had bad endings too. Oddly this was the first Amityville film not to claim to be based on a true story, although the series had never been remotely convincing on that level. This movie is lively and clever enough to make me laugh with scenes that aren't funny, sometimes even deliberately. Who'd a thunk it? Three films into this series and so far I've preferred both sequels to the original.